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Science and Technology … in (Canada’s) senate!

April 25, 2009

Senate, April 21, 2009

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition):

Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Last week, some 2,000 scientists and researchers sent an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to …

reverse his funding cuts to science and research. For the record, the government’s latest budget cut almost $148 million from three granting agencies that fund research at Canada’s universities.

Honourable senators, last week we also learned that the government is willing to spend money but only in certain circumstances. It was revealed that the government hired Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to former President George W. Bush; and Mike McCurry, who held the same job for former President Bill Clinton. These two men have been given the task of securing media interviews in the U.S. for the Prime Minister.

Honourable senators, why is it that this government can find money to help the Prime Minister obtain interviews in the Wall Street Journal, on Fox News and on CNN but they are cutting back on research funding? When will this government get its research funding straight?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for the two-part question. With regard to the science and technology funding, nothing could be further from the truth. The government put $5.1 billion in the Economic Action Plan for science. I would be happy to put on the record the various areas where the government has committed significant funds to science.

It was brought to my attention earlier today that a number of scientists will be coming to Canada from Great Britain. Obviously, Canada is a very attractive destination for scientists.

Honourable senators, regarding the communications policy of the government and the hiring of Mike McCurry and Ari Fleischer, it is in our overall interest to have Canada’s story properly told to our American friends. The proof is that while working closely with our neighbours to the South and with the Obama administration, Canada has received a great deal of positive exposure, which is good for all Canadians.

This country is reliant on our neighbours to the South to buy our products and it is in our interest for our American friends to understand the value of their neighbours to the North. Hopefully, this will help in their understanding of the Canadian economy. It is obvious that the American economy is very important to Canada. Recovery there is important because, despite doing all this work, we still rely on the American markets.

Senator Cowan: To be clear, the Statistics Canada data shows that total federal funding for science and technology in Canada has declined since 2006. Once the numbers are adjusted for inflation, federal funding for science and technology was $385 million less in 2008 than it was in 2005. This is occurring at a time when other countries are investing in science and technology to prepare for the day the economy recovers. We hope that day comes as soon as possible.

Will the leader please tell this chamber why this government will not do the same as other governments? Why has this government decided to pay Ari Fleischer to use his connections to get the Prime Minister on Fox News, instead of investing in our Canadian researchers to help secure our long-term prosperity?

(1435)

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I do not think the decision with regard to Mike McCurry, who worked for President Clinton, and Ari Fleischer, who worked for President Bush, in any way diminishes our commitment to the science community. We support science and technology.

The Prime Minister launched our Science and Technology Strategy in May 2007. In February of this year, the Minister of State for Science and Technology announced an investment of $120.4 million to fund 134 Canada Research Chairs at universities across the country. Our support for basic, discovery-oriented research will advance scientific knowledge. We have invested billions of dollars in research and development since 2006, and our Economic Action Plan makes over $5 billion in new investments, including $750 million in the Canada Foundation for Innovation; $50 million in the Institute for Quantum Computing; $3.5 million over two years in Industrial Research and Development Internships; and $87 million over two years for Arctic research.

There is also a $2-billion Knowledge Infrastructure Program for the renewal of college and university infrastructure, which has been well received and lauded by many universities across the country. On April 8, we announced the first round of projects to qualify under the program in British Columbia. These investments total more than $450 million for 29 projects at post-secondary institutions throughout the province, such as the renewal of the Shrum Science Centre at Simon Fraser University.

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